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WKSU is looking for the answers to the questions you have about Ohio in a project we call "OH Really?" It's an initiative that makes you part of the news gathering process.

Backyard Bird Count in Cleveland, Akron this weekend

Patricia A. Blyler
Birds Canada
The head of the Greater Cleveland branch of the Audubon Society says this year's annual bird count could highlight the impact of climate change.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is set for this coming weekend. It’s a chance for anyone in the world to help provide a real-time snapshot of the planet’s bird populations. And the recent heavy snow may make it easier to do the count in Northeast Ohio.

This year marks the 25th year the Audubon Society has conducted the bird count. Jim Tomko has been president of the society’s Greater Cleveland branch for the past nine years. He says that with the more than two feet of snow in the past month, birds might forgo foraging and show up in back yards instead.

“Some of their normal food sources are concealed and they have to work harder, but these birds are actually pretty clever: they realize, ‘why work hard if you don't have to?’ So, they might show up in your backyard, at your feeder.”

Tomko adds that for thousands of years, birds have arrived in nesting territory each spring just as their main food source -- insects – is emerging. But climate change is affecting that.

“Insect emergence is more based on temperature. And birds’ migration is based more on the photo period -- in other words, how long the day is. So, birds are coming at the same time, but the insects are emerging earlier; they're kind of mismatched now. And who knows how long it's going to take for them to catch up.”

The national Audubon Society has a free informational webinar scheduled for Wednesday, February 16 – two days before the bird count begins.

In the CVNP
In the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there are dozens of excellent, easily accessible spots for bird watching according to Biologist Ryan Trimbath. He recommends the Station Road Bridge trailhead, and the Beaver Marsh on Riverview Road.

Trimbath recently answered a question for our "OH Really?" team. Erie County listener Chad Smith wrote in to ask why he’s seeing so many more robins this time of year when -- in theory -- they should have migrated to warmer climates.

However, Trimbath says there’s no specific reason for that. He points out that not all robins are typical migratory songbirds.

"They are assessing the weather trends that year, and they're assessing their food availability, and the risk of staying versus the risk of going. So, with a bird like a robin -- a partial migrant -- they can decide, 'hey, you know it looks like it's going to be a cold winter. There's not very many fruits on the trees this year. I think I need to make the trip and go somewhere warmer if I'm going to increase my chance of survivorship.'

“We have plenty of resident robins during the winter time. If you’re seeing more of them now, that could potentially mean [that] more birds from up north made the choice to migrate further south. Also, if you're seeing more birds, it's likely because you have some resources that they're looking for.”

Trimbath says those resources include chokecherry or crabapple trees with small, brightly colored berries -- which robins crave.

A study by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology found that robins have been seen in almost every state in January. The lab conducts the annual bird count along with Birds Canada and the Audubon Society.

Tomko adds that if anyone desires to feed robins, they can put out fruit such as blueberries, grapes, blackberries, or purchase mealworms from a pet store. Chopped apples will also attract robins, "but even better is to plant native fruit bearing shrubs and trees!"

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.